Carrier Oils: Essential Oils’ Necessary Partners

by Jesscia North O’Connell

As aromatherapists, we know the importance of using good quality carrier or base oils when creating and using essential oils and blends: to slow the volatility and action of the essential oils, as well as to protect the skin. Using appropriate carrier oil can greatly enhance the synergistic action of a blend.

What we may not realize is just how many types of oils are now available to us, nor the healing qualities these oils possess in these.

Image by Smabs Sputzer

One of my personal favorites, when I was practicing aroma massage on a regular basis, was holly oil; a lovely, light oil expressed from the twigs and leaves of the holly plant (Ilex aquifolium), blended with jojoba oil (to provide “glide”) and Vitamin E. I was introduced to this oil by a fellow massage practitioner who had found it much easier to wash out of linens than the sweet almond oil that was so popular at the time. Sadly, in recent years the addition of a petroleum-based product to the original recipe has rendered this oil unsuitable for massage, in my opinion; and I have discontinued its use.

However, there are many other wonderful base oils to choose from and among my current favorites are grapeseed (Vitis vinifera), sesame (Sesamum indicum), coconut (Cocus nucifera) and light, pure olive (Olea europaea), a real skin-pleaser.

Most skin types tolerate grapeseed well, and its lack of strong odor provides a pleasant base for many essential oils of one’s choosing. It is rich in linoleic acid and a good oil to use on skin which does not absorb easily. I keep my bottle in the refrigerator to extend its life and only take out what I need an hour or so before use.

This same neutrality of odor is true for many other carrier oils, including coconut. Coconut is easily absorbed by the skin, is quite moisturizing and therefore, nourishing to the dry skin we have during the winter months, as well as being anti-inflammatory.  The fractionated oil is most often used in massage because it stays liquid at room temperature.  I use the non-fractionated oil and like putting my container in a vessel with a little warm water; so that the oil is nicely warmed when I’m using it. So pampering! Another appealing benefit of coconut oil is its long shelf-life. Those with a coconut allergy will want to avoid using the oil, though.

Sesame has its own distinctive aroma which I find wonderful but others may not. Sesame oil is widely used for its deeply-nourishing qualities by practitioners of Ayurvedic massage, as it contains Vitamin E, proteins, amino acids, lecithin and minerals, and provides between four and 25 SPF (sun protection factor).*  It is useful for skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema and is soothing to sufferers of arthritis and rheumatism. I would avoid its use, though, by anyone who has a seed allergy, as the oil is extracted from sesame seeds. This is another oil I keep in the refrigerator, to avoid rancidity.

Olive oil also has a long history of use in skin care and massage as it is remarkably supportive to the skin. It has stimulating properties, is good for sprains, bruises, joint pain and is moisturizing, with an SPF between two and eight.  Because olive is oil which is often adulterated, we really want to pay attention to the source. In my area, olive oil shops are beginning to appear that offer a wide assortment of real olive oils, garnered from around the world, and ranging from very light to quite heavy in both the texture and fragrance we usually associate with this oil.

Image by Dan (catching up)

With over thirty-five (last time I counted) potential base oils to choose from, it’s worthwhile doing a bit of research for our own edification about the beneficial qualities of the various oils so that we can pass this information along to our clients and better meet their individual needs. Not all oils are suitable for everybody or every purpose, so it’s good to know about and have alternatives.

*Although I always caution people against sunbathing with essential oils on their skin! Using the oil by itself, and with good sense, is fine.

Jessica North-O’Connell is founding Priestess of Faerie Mound Mystery School and Great Goddess Alive! Alchemical Arts & Services. She has been a practicing aromatherapist for 20 years, a Reiki and Soul Realignment practitioner, as well as a Tarot and Rune reader. She offers classes and programs and has aspirations of opening a Retreat center for creative recovery. Find her at and